Knowledge is power, but all too often we gain our knowledge by making mistakes. In this section, I will point out common things to watch for in any old transistor radio, and then, for several Zenith models, specific traits that you need to be aware of when buying. I hope that this helps to give you the power to make good choices, and ultimately, to build a better collection at a far lower expenditure. This list is not intended to be all-inclusive and your comments are welcomed.
Basic considerations for all models
Here are some general things to watch out for that will harm the appearance and lower the value of any transistor radio:
Chips and hairline cracks usually at the corners where the halves meet
Corrosion to the battery contacts due to battery leaks
Corrosion to the metal stand
Dents to any metal parts, especially grills
Heavy scratching to plastic/nylon surfaces
Broken parts like the little tabs on battery doors that are broken off
These things have a positive impact on a radio’s appearance and value:
All the lettering is clear and sharp
Paper labels are still attached and clean
The body is scratch free and still has luster
All metal parts are dent and corrosion free
Color is not faded or yellowed
Good working condition
All original parts with no repairs
Scarce models or colors
The following Zenith radios have specific things that are typical to that model to watch out for:
On the first two versions, watch out for cracks to the large tuning dial. Also, the top front corners should still be pointed if the radio has not been dropped. Corrosion to the metal parts of the model H is common. If they have the carrying case still in one piece that is a bonus.
On the model L, pay attention to the metal grill and watch for dents or scratches. The condition of the metal Zenith nameplate at the top shows the first signs of wear. The clear tuning lens cover also often is scratched.
These large radios were made out of fragile plastic, not nylon. Therefore, so many have suffered chips and cracks as a result of a drop or fall. Also, many of the tuning and volume knobs have lost their gold metal “bright”.
The low cost polystyrene cabinet often suffered chips at the corners. Also, the long metal nameplate on the front right side is easily scratched and dented.
The silver faceplate by the knobs would receive most of the wear and would lose it’s plating.
The faceplate is made of thin metal and was prone to dents and scratches. Most examples found today have some degree of damage there.
The large grills were subject to damage by the snap of their leather case. That would either dent them or damage the paint. The metal nameplate on the bottom often would come unglued and be missing. Also, watch out for a chip at the top right corner of the front half. For some reason, this is where most of the chipped cabinets occured.
Being the first transistor model makes these of special interest to collectors. The real draw is to find the earliest serial #. The earlier, the more valuable!
Zenith made three different chassis, some with Texas Instrument transistors (7xt40), some with Sylvania transistors (7xt40z1), and a few with Raytheon transistors (7xt40z). There is no real hard data to be found on the how many of each chassis type was produced, but through my observations I would guess about 65% were 7xt40, 35% were 7xt40z1, and less than 1% were 7xt40z! (I would be interested in hearing your findings). So find out which chassis the radio has to better determine its’ value.
On the outside, the front and back halves often do not meet flush at the spot where the stand connects. The battery door tends to warp. Look closely to the wear on the knobs (especially the volume knob) to determine the amount of use the radio received. Real nice examples still have a white painted “pointer” on the volume and tuning knobs. Watch out for missing lettering under these knobs as there were no collars to protect them.
Second generation owls (model B) have most of the same exterior concerns as the hand-wireds. Look out for wear to the lettering by the volume knob as this did not have a collar yet. Check the knobs for wear, especially the volume knob. Real nice examples still have a white painted “pointer” on the volume knob (a black pointer on white versions). Again, the front and back halves often do not meet flush at the spot where the stand connects. This problem was corrected with the model D.
Zenith continued to get transistors from other suppliers to help keep up with demand, so knowing the chassis of your radio is again important. The printed circuit chassis name now has a “Z” as the second character replacing the “X”. The three possible chassis versions in the model B are 7zt40 with Texas Instrument transistors, 7zt40z1 with Sylvania transistors, and 7zt40z with Raytheon transistors. Again, there is no data from Zenith on the how many of each chassis type they produced, but I would guess about 65% were 7zt40, 30% were 7zt40z1, and maybe 5% were 7zt40z. Does this support your findings? Chassis version again can influence the value.
I look closely at the words “Long Distance” on the front and the printing on the back to determine the amount of wear the model D has received.
The gold metal faceplate was quite attractive when new, but quickly showed wear by the knobs with use. Also, they would become damaged the first time they were put into their carrying case as the snap assembly would scratch the faceplate by the word “Long”. The pointed cone grills tended to corrode, but the mesh grills are usually fine.
Watch for wear around the rim of the large oval grill and corrosion to the grill itself. Also, it is common to find wear on the gold shelf by the tuning and volume knobs. The gold nameplate badge at the top should be bright gold, but many have lost their color or been damaged from wear. There are many opportunities for chips on this model. Check the top and bottom corners closely, especially on white models for some reason. These areas are where the plastic is the thinnest and chipping can occur if care is not taken when putting the two halves back together. Also check for chipping by the earphone plug. A plus is getting a model H with the blue dot disc still on the volume knob.
Check the condition of the leather case as many have become dry and brittle or stained over the years. Check for cracks, wear, and discoloration closely, especially the handle and snaps. Pay close attention to the stitching to judge the overall wear to these sets. Many of the backs have split at the “hinge” where it opens to change the batteries.
The back section often warps from being pulled off wrong. They should be opened by grabbing the back at the top and in the middle where the clasp is, not at the corners. The large grill dents easily and sometimes has some spots of corrosion. This is considered a scarce model!